What is Aggressive?

First, let me say that this post has nothing to do with the debate about interior versus exterior, so if you’re trolling for something like that, just move along. No, this is one post in a string of future posts that will address some situations I’ve recently seen regarding aggressiveness and the lack of on the fire ground and in our daily activities at the firehouse.
Aggressiveness was first introduced to me at an early age when I began playing basketball. Our high system was built upon aggressive man-to-man defense, so the levels from 4th grade on up were doing their best to prepare us younger players to fit in that system. Just for the record, the system worked very well. I recall my Junior year we were 19-9 and we were shunned and thought to have had a bad season, even after finishing runner-up in districts. Eh, the expectation were high and I’m thankful that they were.
At a young age aggressiveness was instilled in me in a way that defined it basically like this. 
Never wait on the ball, go to it. If the ball is on the floor, you better be too. Basketball is a contact sport, you just have be good at when and where. You have to want it more than the other guy. If you aren’t exhausted after the game, you didn’t work hard enough. No matter the size of the other player, you never back down and you take the charge with a smile.
I lived my entire years in school adhering to this code. At no time were we to be reckless, that could cost the team and the team always came first. (I have a story about that, but I’ll share it another time.) So, when I joined the fire department and matured, it should be no surprise that I carried this belief with me and I still like to think I’m an aggressive chief.
When I try to explain what being agressive is to others or a new employee, I have a few things that I like to mention to help them to understand what and how we do things at our department. With some recent events, I thought I would share them here so that others might want to use them and add their own ideas.
As a Battalion Chief who was an aggressive Captain and firefighter, one of the hardest things I do is WATCH my members make a charged house fire. My system does not really allow me to be very hands on as the IC. I know other BC’s do it different, but our system is what it is and it works.
Aggressiveness just doesn’t show up one day, it is an indoctrination. What I have found is that departments that haven’t been aggressive and now want to be, struggle. Training is the key attribute to being an aggressive department. Your culture and attitude and thus, your behavior is determined a great deal by how you train. If training is focused on not getting hot, cold, wet, sweaty, tired and challenged, being aggressive is hard to come by.
On the other hand, those departments that choose to regularly drill and train on firefighting skills that will be needed during a fire and there is an emphasis placed on mastery, these departments, in my experience, tend to be more aggressive because they trust their skill sets and abilities. It helps to minimize fear and increases trust among members.
A third option is the department that doesn’t train and still operates as an aggressive department. This is just as bad as the department that doesn’t train and is not aggressive. The department that refuses to train or thinks they are “good enough” are the ones that I mentioned above; reckless and harmful to the team.
Aggressive is not a location and is used in all aspects of the fire service. If you’ve ever taken a leadership class of mine, you know that I have four rules: BE PRODUCTIVE, BE CONSTRUCTIVE, BE GENEROUS and BE AGGRESSIVE. It is not limited to the fire ground. I want to be and I want my members to be aggressive in everything they do.
Yes, our department still goes inside first. We will search without a hose line. We train for that and we have built a culture for our members to operate and adapt to the conditions they meet. But, with that being said, I want my members aggressively pursuing opportunities to interact with our citizens. I want them aggressively checking smoke detectors every time they enter a home. I want them aggressively evaluating and treating patients that we respond to. I want them to aggressively pursue excellence and to increase their education.
See, to me, aggressive is a mindset, an attitude and culture that has to embrace its responsibility to the people we serve. In most cases, if we do that, we meet the needs of our own members as well.
So, aggressive is not a location, it’s not how you wear your t-shirt, it’s not a tattoo or a sticker. It has to be who you are and who your department is.  
So, are you aggressive?


  • Daniel Krahn says:

    Chief, you are right on target. People mistake aggressive with unsafe. I am aggressive because I have trained with my crew and I better understand the risks involved as well as my limitations. Crews who don’t train either overestimate their abilities or they don’t know them. So, they go farther than they should or conversely, they are uncomfortable going as far as they should. I love being a company officer with a crew who wants to be the best, and train so that they can be. With 26 years in Fire and EMS, I am still learning. Thank you for putting this topic out there.

  • Erik B says:

    There’s a better word…”Assertive”

    Aggressive does give the wrong impression in my opinion. Here’s why…synonyms: hostile, belligerent, bellicose, antagonistic, truculent; More
    pursuing one’s aims and interests forcefully, sometimes unduly so.

  • Rob Cowell says:

    Alternate definitions: “making an all out effort to succeed; competitive” or “assertive, bold, enterprising”

  • M. Richardson says:

    Are you arbitrarily aggressive or intellectually aggressive? Contrary to some beliefs, they are not the same! One will increase your chances of being severely injured or killed, the other will significantly increase your chances of successfully completing your mission and going home in the same condition that you showed up in. Actions speak louder than words, but words also define our actions!

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